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Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba

A personal journey


The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

A childhood memory: A group of kids and their teacher on a school trip. They are walking through excavations, listening to explanations from a tour guide about their ancestors who lived there two thousand years ago. After a while, one of the kids points to some ruins between the trees. “Are these ancient homes as well?” he asks.

“These are not important,” comes the answer.

Growing up in the seventies and the eighties you couldn’t miss those small houses scattered near fields, between towns and Kibbuzim and in national parks. Most of them were made of stone, with arches and long, tall windows. In other places they had cement walls. Sometimes all you could see was part of a stone fence, a couple of walls with no roof, or the rows of Indian fig that Palestinians used to mark the border of an agricultural field (it is one of history’s ironies that the Hebrew name of their fruit – the Sabra – became the nickname for an Israeli-born Jew).

Those pieces of the local landscape are gradually disappearing – partly due to the “development” trends which have left very few corners of this country untouched, but also due to a policy that is meant to erase any memory of the people who used to live in this land. But one can still find them sometimes, and in the most unexpected of places –the mosque, which stands between the hotels and expensive apartment towers on Tel Aviv’s beach, or a few homes behind Herzlia’s monstrous Cinema City complex.

As a kid, I never gave those ruins much thought. I loved history – but the history they taught us at school. I could probably have lead a tour of Massada at the age of 12, and one of my favorite books told the tragic story of the last convoy to Gush Ezion in ‘48, before it fell into Jordanian hands.

Once, also during elementary school, our class was supposed to go on a tour of Canada Park, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We had been there before – they told us of the crusaders who passed through the area and the caves and homes Jews lived in, and I still remember the explanation on the ways they used to make wine—but this time my mother didn’t want me to go. The park, she told me, stood on the site of the last two Palestinian villages that were destroyed by Israel. Not many remember this story – it happened right after the war in 1967. Imwas and Yallu were demolished under a direct order by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry states that unlike in ’48, the Palestinian residents were later compensated, but they weren’t allowed to return to their village.

I don’t remember if I ended up going on this trip or not.

Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman / Zochrot.org)

I never heard the word Nakba before the nineties. It was simply not present in the Israeli language, or in the popular culture. Naturally, we knew that some Arabs left Israel in 1948, but it was all very vague. While we were asked to cite numbers and dates of the Jewish waves of immigration to Israel, details on the Palestinian parts of the story were sketchy: How many Palestinians left Israel? What were the circumstances under which they left? Why didn’t they return after the war? All these questions were irrelevant, having almost nothing to do with our history—that’s what we were made to think.

Occasionally, we were told that the Arabs had left under their own will, and it seemed that they chose not to come back, at least in the beginning. Years later, I was shocked to read that most of the notorious “infiltrates” from the early fifties were actually people trying to come back to their homes, even crossing the border to collect the crops from their fields at tremendous risk to their life – as IDF units didn’t hesitate to open fire.

We were made to think they were terrorists…

It’s hard to explain the mechanism which makes some parts of history “important” or some elements of the landscape “interesting.” I can only say that looking back, I understand how selective the knowledge we received was. But there is more to this. I think we all chose not to think about those issues. Even after the New Historians of the nineties made the term Nakba a part of modern Hebrew and proved that in many cases, Israel expelled Palestinians from territories it conquered in ’48, we were engaged in the wrong kind of questions, such as the debate on whether more Palestinian were expelled or fled. The important thing is that they weren’t allowed to come back, and that they had their property and land seized by Israel immediately after the war (as some Jews had by Jordan and Syria, but not in substantial numbers). Leaving a place doesn’t make someone a refugee. It’s forbidding him or her from coming back that does it.


A Palestinian man and a girl in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via Wikimedia, license CC)

For a short while in 2004-2005 I was writing book reviews for Maariv’s internet site, and for several other magazines. I don’t think that I was very good at that, and I still regret a couple of very critical reviews I wrote (I’ve since decided not to review fiction anymore). But I got to read some interesting books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

One of these books was “Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine” by Raja Shehadeh, which was translated to Hebrew by the big publishing house Yedioth Sfarim (despite the best efforts by both sides, the hatred and the war, ‏Israeli and Palestinian cultures are still linked to each other in so many ways). Shehadeh was born in Ramallah, the son of an affluent family from Jaffa who left town “for a couple of weeks” during the war and could never come back.

For years, his father would stand in the evenings on the hills of Ramallah and look west, at the aura of his beloved Jaffa.

In 1967, right after the war, an Israeli friend came to visit the Shehadeh family, and the father immediately asked him to visit Jaffa (Palestinians were allowed to travel freely in Israel until 1993). Only when they got there, did Raja’s father understand that his Jaffa was dead. All those years, he was looking at the lights coming out of Tel Aviv.

Maybe it’s because I live in Tel Aviv that this story had such an effect on me. I couldn’t get the picture of the family standing on Ramallah’s hills, looking into the darkness, out of my mind. I thought on the book’s title: who are the “strangers” mentioned there? Is it us, who, in our despair, invaded the Palestinian home, or is it the Palestinians, who found themselves displaced and lost, refugees in their own land?

(The false claim that Palestinians are strangers to this land and only got here because of the Jewish immigration is still pretty common with Israelis. Shehadeh meant it in an entirely different way).

Another Palestinian book I was asked to review was Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew” (to the best of my knowledge, this one was never translated to English). The book is not really a memoir, but more of an attempt to reconstruct a picture of the author’s childhood in the village near Haifa out of his fragmented recollections, the stories of his mother and the legends of the village’s people. At the heart of the story is a long convoy of refugees, walking at night east, away from the advancing Jewish army – one of the most poetic and saddest description I’ve read, not because of the horror, but for the desperate attempt to understand what happened, how, and why.


Palestinian refugees in 1948 (photo: wikimedia, Israeli copyrights expired)

I remembered Muhammad al-As’ad and Raja Shehadeh when last year I interviewed the Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, for a piece I did on prominent right-wing figures that were toying with the idea of a one state solution to the conflict. Rivlin, a Likud hawk, grew up in Jerusalem, which was a fairly mixed town before 1948, and certainly more than today. He understood Arabic and had Palestinian acquaintances.

At one point, the conversation reached the idea—popular with mainstream Israeli pundits—that it will be impossible to reach an agreement with the current Arab leadership, which still had many refugees (including Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed). According to this line of thinking, we should look for interim agreements because the next generation, who weren’t displaced themselves, might be more pragmatic.

“Nonsense!” Speaker Rivlin said. “Typical lefty patronizing… the left has always looked down on the Palestinians… [the Jews] remembered our land for 2,000 years, and now you want to tell me that the Palestinians will forget it in ten, twenty years?

“Believe me, they will remember.”

Rivlin does not advocate the right of return for Palestinians and one could also have doubts on the particular joint state he envisions for Jews and Arabs, but at the bottom of his thinking there is a very deep truth: The Jewish people are a living proof that a “refugee problem” won’t disappear for generations, even hundreds and thousands of years, and therefore can’t be ignored.


A Palestinian man watches a school in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via wikimedia. license CC)

The Israeli reaction to the mentioning of the Nakba is composed of several elements, each one of them contradicting the other. Some say that there was no Nakba. Then there is the line that suggests that people left on their own will. And if they didn’t – they deserve it, because the Arabs opposed the 1947 partition plan and declared war on the Jews. Finally, there are those who admit that Israel initiated mass deportation and prevented the refugees from coming back—they are even ready to recognize their tragedy, but they simply say that ethnic cleansings are part of the birth of almost every nation. That this is the way of the world – and the Palestinians should simply accept it. Ironically, the latter is the position of Benny Morris, the most well- known of the Israeli New Historian and the person who almost single-handedly proved the claims of forced deportations by the IDF in 1948.

This kind of political argument has recently started to lead to policy decisions, the most prominent of them being the Nakba Law. The original intention of the bill was to completely criminalize any mentioning of the Nakba (with a punishment of up to three years in prison), but this was too anti-democratic even for the current Knesset. The law that did pass forbids government-supported institutions from publicly commemorating the Nakba. The bill is very vague, and theoretically, it could be used to withdraw funds from a university who plans a debate on the Palestinian disaster. More likely though is that it will be implemented against Arab municipalities and institutions who attempt to hold memorial days or ceremonies for the Nakba. It is important to remember not only that some 20 percent of Israelis are Palestinians, but that many of them are refugees – the often-forgotten “internal refugees” who lost their homes and property but found themselves inside Israel at the end of the war.

Speakers for Israel abroad also take part in the Nakba-denial campaign, the latest example being the attempt by trustees of New York City University to refuse an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner because he associated the term ethnic cleansing with the birth of Israel. And a few months ago, the Palestine Papers revealed that the US State Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asked the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations to forgo some of their claims regarding the refugees because “bad things happen to people all the time.”

Apart from being so insensitive on a basic human level, such actions—from the Knesset’s Nakba Law to the decision by CUNY’s trustees—ignore one important thing: that the Nakba is part of Israeli and Jewish history.

We have declared a war on our own past.

Memorial sign at the site of Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

In 2008 I traveled to the US to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions ahead of the American presidential elections. I love driving, so I decided not to fly from St. Paul to Denver but to rent a car instead. I decided to pass through every national site I could find on the way, from Mt. Rushmore to Clear Lake, Iowa, the place where music died.

Among the places I planned on seeing was Wounded Knee, in the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre marked the end of the Native American resistance to the colonization of their land. I remembered reading about it somewhere, and when I saw on the map that the site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, I figured it must be worth a visit.

The problem was that I couldn’t find the place. I passed through the same spot a couple of times, but saw none of the things you would normally see in a national historical site in America. No flags, no museum, no book shop—not even a restaurant. Yet I was positive that I was in the right spot.

On my third attempt I spotted an old metal sign at the side of the road, and on a nearby hill, a tiny graveyard. A sign pointed to the sweet corn stand nearby, but there was nobody there and the window was closed. It was high tourist season.

The entire site was so deserted and sad you could almost feel the ghosts of the dead Lakota people there. Again, it was impossible not to think of the deserted ruins of the Palestinian villages scattered around my country. The American history is probably bloodier than the Israeli, and yes, bad things happen to people everywhere – but is this a reason to forget them? Doesn’t the Palestinian village of Sumail, less than a mile from Rabin square, right at the heart of Tel Aviv, deserve even a memorial site? The last few homes of Sumail are still there, right on one of the busiest junctions of Tel Aviv, but they are about to be destroyed soon, making way for new towers, and a new generation of Israeli kids will be taught in school that the Hebrew city of Tel Aviv was built on empty sand dunes.

The old cemetary at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Speaker Rivlin is right: The Palestinians won’t forget the Nakba. In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger. Meanwhile, all the attempts to forbid any mentioning of the Nakba are hurting Israel’s ability to understand our own history, and not just the parts of it that have to do with the Palestinians.

I was discussing these issues recently with a friend who has a passion for military history. Whenever he can, this friend goes to visit old battle sites looking for old bullets, coins and other modern relics. As part of his hobby, he’s gained a very thorough knowledge of the Nakba, and with time it has beome an obsession on its own for him. Still, he is what Israelis would call a moderate on the political spectrum. The only reason he is looking for these ruins, he tells me, is in order to know our own past. Naturally, he is furious with the Nakba Bill or the recent Anti-Nakba booklet a rightwing Israeli NGO has published.

Yesterday, I got an excited e-mail from this friend. This week he watched Charlie and Half, the Israeli cult comedy from the seventies which is always aired by one of the TV channels on Independence Day.

“It’s actually one of the best documentations of the Palestinians village Sheikh Munis,” he tells me. Charlie and Half, which tells the story of a Sephardic “wise guy,” was shot in Sheikh Munis, which became after 48′ one of Tel Aviv’s poorest neighborhoods, populated with Jews from Arab countries. Most of it is gone by now, destroyed to make way for luxury apartments and the new buildings of Tel Aviv University, but back in 1973, the year the film was produced, the original Palestinian houses and streets were very much present.

Watch, for example, the third minute of the film:

The way in which Jews from Arab countries were sent to live in Palestinian homes, only to be evacuated and literally thrown to the streets decades later as the value of the lands soared, is one of the Nakba’s interesting side stories. It’s also further evidence to the fact that forgetting the Nakba actually means not understanding our own history, not understanding ourselves.

Palestinian Nakba village Sumail, at the heart of Tel Aviv (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)

It’s not just our sense of guilt for the Nakba that keeps haunting Israelis. In his introduction to Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew”, the Israeli editor of the book, Yossef Algazi, who came to know al-As’ad in person, calls the author “A Wandering Jew of our time.” Meeting descendants of Palestinian refugees in the last few years, I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between Jewish and Palestinian fates, and the sense of displacement the two people share. I think that our real problem with the Palestinians has to do with the feeling that we need to ignore their story in order to hold on to our identity as Israelis – when in fact, we would never feel “at home” without facing the wounds of the past.

“At the end of every sentence you say in Hebrew sits an Arab with a Nargilah (hookah) / even if it starts in Siberia or in Hollywood with Hava Nagila,” wrote the Israeli poet Meir Ariel in his song “Shir Keev” (“Song of Pain”). I think it’s the best political line written in Hebrew. It tells us that whatever we do, regardless of the political solution we chose to advocate or how powerful we might feel, our fate here will always be linked to the Palestinians’.

Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.

Read more in +972 Magazine’s Remembering the Nakba project:

Eitan Bronstein: Nakba Law: Inside Pandora’s Box
Joseph Dana: Occupation & Nakba: Interview with Ariella Azoulay & Adi Ophir
Yossi Gurvitz: Rightwing group publishes Nakba denial booklet
Dahlia Scheindlin: Nakba Law: Is it time for civil disobedience?

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    1. It is critical to honor actual history, including narrative.

      It is also critical to remember the struggle of one’s own community as struggle (if you were there), to quote the Passover parallel.

      The setting was war, and war following barely escape from genocide.

      It is NOT an academic question.

      If the consequences of remembering are reconciliation, then it should be assertively remembered, in the setting of reconciliation. If the consequences of remembering are escalation of war, then it should be accepted quietly.

      Some of the injustices to Jews in the twentieth century were events that Palestinians collectively or specific factions had nothing to do with. (The Nazi asteroid did directly involve the Arab world, but only tangentially.)

      Others did occur at the hands of Palestinians and solidarity, and contributed to the setting of to the death wars.

      Eyes open means eyes open to all of the contradictions with what is “right”.

      I think it would be a wonderful exercise for some progressive Jewish Israeli to draft a series of maps of Palestinian villages/towns/cities at different times, and coolly explain the lives of the residents.

      As in the states, Indians were removed (by a combination of events within and beyond European powers’ control), their ways are respected, sought after by at least some Americans and Canadians. Not just the invocation of political rage, but actual respect for the people.

      Knowing that ecology itself is changing all the time, erasing the past. (How many of you can trace a glacial artifact?)

      Reply to Comment
    2. Abban Aziz

      Sigh. Why should Jews remember this so-called “Nakba?”

      Let’s see the Arab’s state a war – they lose the war – people are displaced in the war.

      Big deal. over 100 million people were made refugees in post-WWII civil wars, including over a million Jews. And they lived in crappy refugee camps just like the so-called Palestinians.

      What needs to be remembered is the Arab and Muslim states bigoted treatment of Arab refugees and expulsion of Jews.

      Arabs in Israel gained more right and freedoms than in any of the newly-declared Arab states.

      That is what should be remembered.

      Reply to Comment
    3. RichardNYC

      The “Nakba” is not part of Israeli history because word does not refer to an event in history, it refers to the Palestinian victimhood narrative, a tale that is rendered non-history by the omission of key events (the siege of Jerusalem, for instance). I understand why an Israeli who was taught a similarly incomplete version of history would be curious about 1948, but the “Nakba” narrative isn’t the truth, its just the Palestinian corollary of the Zionist Israeli narrative the author was raised on. Swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side, and embracing the Palestinian narrative is not a healthy correction, its a manifestation of some kind of dysfunctional need for emotional self-excoriation.

      Reply to Comment
    4. max

      I like your post and therefore can’t help being upset by small (?) false anecdotes, such as the one mentioning that the fedayeen were merely trying to collect their crops, when in fact this was probably the case only up to 1950, after which time they were involved in murders of (mostly) civilians.
      I guess that a balanced view of history is the privilege of the strong, and Israel feels that acknowledging some parts of its history in the context of an opponent that doesn’t acknowledges its right to exist, is a step it cannot afford.
      To keep expectations and criticism realistic, I tend to use a comparative view, and as you witnessed in America and know from Europe, Israel isn’t alone in such denials.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Y,

      This is a cute presentation, but the conclusion simply does not arise from the (often distorted) ‘facts’. Are the Americans any worse off because of their incomplete memory?

      Aside, I must point out that Morris’s opinion is quite different. He pretty emphatically blames ‘the Arabs’:

      “Just to give one key example: I most emphatically never stated anywhere that “the dismantling of Palestinian society…and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians [were] a deliberate and planned operation intended to ‘cleanse’…those parts of Palestine assigned to the Jews.” Quite the opposite. Had Siegman bothered to read my books, he would have discovered that mainstream (Haganah–JewishAgency) Zionist policy, until the end of March 1948—meaning during the first four months of the war—was to protect the Arab minority in the Jewish areas and to try to maintain peaceful coexistence. Intentions changed only in April, when the Yishuv was with its back to the wall, losing the battle for the roads and facing potentially politicidal and genocidal pan-Arab invasion. And even then, no systematic policy of expulsion was ever adopted or implemented (hence Israel’s one-million-strong Arab minority today). The Arabs have only themselves to blame for the (unexpected) results of the war that they launched with the aim of “ethnically cleansing” Palestine of the Jews. (Contemporary Arab apologists, always full of righteous indignation, conveniently forget this.)”[1]


      Reply to Comment
    6. Sylvia

      It is an interesting post. I find it telling though that you found space to mention the Massacre at Wounded Knee, yet you couldn’t find a paragraph or two to mention the ethnic cleansing, the pogroms, the racial laws that turned a million Jews of Arab and Muslim countries into refugees running for their lives. In most countries, they were stripped of citizenship and robbed by governments.
      Here is the suppression of another “Naqba” which you yourself actively promote.

      Reply to Comment
    7. @Noam – this is essential reading, and your writing is essential. Ignore (as I’m sure you will) those detractors who critique your piece due to its lack of mentioning pinnacle moments of Jewish/Israeli suffering. This is, after all, a piece focusing on the Palestinians, and not on our own difficult history. For such critiques come from a desire to engage in a competitive victimhood, for many among my people (and yours) view this conflict as a zero sum game in which only one side should triumph: the true victims. The reality is, however, that both sides have been victimized at points, and both sides, in the end, can simultaneously win with a just, peaceful, two-state existence.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sebastian

      Ok, so isn’t there always a group that ends up becoming displaced with the establishment of new borders? Why is Israel treated as the only country that has to apologize for its own existence and survival? Has any Arab country come forward and apologized for its persecution and expulsion of Jews? No one says a word about the murder of Jews at their own doorsteps in 1948 Iraq – citizens who had lived there for centuries. Why is there not a single Jew in Libya, Jordan or Saudi Arabia? And it seems that with a 2 state solution the Arab areas would be devoid of Jews,including Hebron where Jews had lived peacefully for centuries until the 1930’s while Arabs seem to be entitled to live anywhere in Israel that they choose while ignoring the fact leaders of Arab countries treat them worse than street dogs by keeping them in refugee camps. It seems that the real Nakba is happening in the Arab countries. Do me a favor…

      Reply to Comment
    9. annie

      thanks noam, i appreciate your article. “In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger.”
      yes, with every year more and more people understand the nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    10. RichardNYC

      @David Ehg

      I think we agree for the most part, since we both acknowledge the suffering and the guilt of Israeli Jews and Palestinians. But its ironic that you misread (my?) criticism of Noam’s piece as the expression of a victimhood-winner-take-all-zero-sum-game mentality, since it is not. It is the “Nakba” mentality that is zero-sum. To think that acknowledging the “Nakba” and validating Palestinian grief is a path to mutual understanding and peace is a classic projection of Western positive-sum thinking onto a group of people who do not think that way. The “Nakba” narrative is about the exclusive righteousness of the Palestinian cause, and the inalienability of the “right of return.” Those who speak of the “Nakba” are not interested in two states – they’re interested in victory. Acknowledgement of guilt and suffering on both sides means rejecting the “Nakba”, not embracing it. Your views stem from a general misunderstanding of what “Nakba” means to Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Jews don’t need to “identify” with the Nakba, and Palestinians don’t need to identify with the Holocaust.
      In the first case, the Arabs started the war, announced that genocide was the goal, and, thank G-d, they were defeated. If the Arabs had bad leadership that betrayed them, leading to their disaster, that is not Israel’s problem, so there is nothing to “identify” with.
      Regarding the Holocaust, the Arab world was largely on the sidelines in World War II. Many Arabs viewed the Nazis as liberators who would drive away the French and British imperial powers and and people who knew how to deal with the “Jewish problem”. So how can we expect the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians to related in any way to the Holocaust. (BTW- I have always found that common anti-Israel propaganda line among Arabs equating Israel with Nazism very puzzling, because the Arabs didn’t and don’t, to this day, have the strong, visceral reaction to Nazism Jews and other Europeans have. Considering that “Mein Kampf” is a best seller in the world, is it possible that the comparison is meant as a compliment?)

      Reply to Comment
    12. david shalev

      So the Arabs initiated a war of annihilation, lost and then framed their narrative as “the tragedy”.

      I think Jews should send an apology to the Arabs for not succeeding in killing them.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      @ben, the Germans have to identify with the Holocaust, and they do. It is high time the Israeli do the same about the Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    14. RichardNYC

      No amount of Holocaust minimization is too much for you guys…German Jews, Polish Jews, Ukrainian Jews, etc. did not take up arms against the Germans before the…and not even in the Warsaw Ghetto until it was clear that all was lost…you will never succeed in making this analogy stick…because it is repulsive

      Reply to Comment
    15. David

      Yeahhh DIRECTROB
      you may not be Jewish or even live in Israel, but even you must have understood by now, that comparisons of the Shoa and the Nakba are sort of a no-go-area. These sort of comments out you as someone who has not understood, much.
      When will the Arabs/far leftists talk about the 700000 Mezrahim driven from their homes? Compensation?

      Reply to Comment
    16. I felt that this article somehow explained to me, a Palestinian whose family lost my home to the Israelis, how they feel, and how they are taught in schools. They are in complete denial of their tragic history, and of the continuing crimes comitted agains palestinians. What is more apparent and appalling is how the people who are comenting on this article call my people the “so called Palestinians”. So they are in denial of an entire people who they have wronged, and you want me to acknowledge the existence of Israel??!!

      Reply to Comment
    17. David

      What is far more of interest, is the inability to integrate 750.000 Palestinians into their original host countries ( being brothers and all ) ? Could this be for a sinister reason?
      The world now has 5 Million Palestinian “refugees”, which makes this the only refugee population in the history of man, with a hereditary refugee status. On a legal note, I wonder if this will stand up in a court of law?
      I think Jews will talk about the Nakba more, when it is not used as a crow bar against Israel’s simple being.
      How can the Israeli Jews empathize when the very topic is mainly used to put their existence into question?
      I concur with Benny Morris. Since we all know what would have happened if the Arabs had won the war of Independence .
      Or put another way, if you start a war, you better make sure you win it.
      Bitching with 20/20 hind sight is superfluous.

      Looking back at say 100 years of history and how refugee’s were dealt with during that time, it begs the question why the Arabs with UNRWA got this sweet heredity deal?
      The UN staffers who drafted the UNRWA charter must be kicking themselves for when they formed an agency that gives millions of people “hope” to “return” ( to a place they have never been to ), and at the same time perpetuates a myth they no longer have control over. Namely the Arab instrumentalisation of hundreds of thousands of powerless slum dwellers and their brain washed dreams of a “return” to a place they have never been to. Which again begs the question can you be a refugee, when you have never been to the place you “fled” from?

      Reply to Comment
    18. David

      I have seen arial photographs of the dunes who would become Tel Aviv.
      These photographs are on display in many places in Tel Aviv, for they show the new village of Neved Tzedek growing next to Yaffa surrounded by much sand.
      On the photograph we see no other structures apart from those mentioned.
      Tel Aviv, was in its early stages built on virgin sand. There are many many photographs proving this. Since Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, I sincerely doubt that any Arab villages were emptied. Over the years Tel has grown, just like any any city worth its salt and has swallowed villages in its path of expansion.
      Do other world class cities have places where former villages are remembered ? No.

      Reply to Comment
    19. sh

      @David “Do other world class cities have places where former villages are remembered ? ”

      Yes. London world class enough for you?

      “The few dozen acres on which the modern city was founded in 1909 had a long history of land use and hundreds of owners over the centuries. The first Tel Aviv neighborhood was built on land bought for the Jewish settlers, in a sale that European consuls had to force Ottoman officials to allow because many of the owners objected to and continued to contest for many years. Since that first land purchase, Tel Aviv has grown into a large city, expanding onto land annexed from the surrounding Arab villages. In fact, the Israeli human rights group Zochrot has documented 7 Palestinian villages on which Tel Aviv is built: Shaykh Muwannis, Summayl, Jammasin al-Gharbi, al-Manshyyah, Salama, Abu Kabir, Fishermen Village, and Irsheed.”

      Take a look at the map: http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/content/setting-record-straight-response-historical-distortions-tiff

      Reply to Comment
    20. Abban Aziz

      “ben, the Germans have to identify with the Holocaust, and they do. It is high time the Israeli do the same about the Nakba.”

      You’re sick. 972 should delete your comments for hate speech.

      You are a blatant holocaust denier and antisemite. Trivializing an act of genocide to a civil war…you are sick.

      Reply to Comment
    21. max

      @SH – any documents for the claim of European consuls forcing the Ottomans to sell the land?

      Reply to Comment
    22. directrob

      For the record the Nazi crimes including the holocaust, which was a crime so bad that is hard to imagine (I watched hours of shoah), do not compare at all with the situation in Israel. I do think comparing Israeli crimes to Nazi crimes is unfair by several orders of magnitude.
      I replied however to Ben’s post, who claimed that “Jews don’t need to “identify” with the Nakba, and Palestinians don’t need to identify with the Holocaust.”.
      Ben’s remark is quite strange no reason to bring the Holocaust in. I simply think Israeli should identify with the Nakba.

      Reply to Comment
    23. max

      Director, all wars result in tragedies. Often, the aggressor calculated well and wins. In the other cases, the tragedies are typically much worse.
      Israelis acknowledge the tragedy of the Palestinians but do not accept the blame of being the aggressor.

      Reply to Comment
    24. The nakba.

      Sympathy for the experience of those that had been displaced, and have not been able to rebuild a life?

      Sympathy for the experience of those that continue to experience limitation?


      Invocation of rage in solidarity?

      What do you propose Noam?

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    25. directrob

      I think the Zionist Jews were aggressive, because wanting the land under someones else feet is nasty. After the state of Israel was recognized by the UN that became irrelevant. No need to identify an aggressor anymore.
      Denying the fugitives the return to their land (even if they lived inside Israel) and destroying their villages is something the Israeli should accept the blame for. That is what turned a fugitive problem into the Nakba.

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    26. max

      Director, by aggression I refer to the instigation of the ’48 war.
      Denying the return of the refugees is a common practice and can’t be seen as wrong – it’s how the world works. Morals are a function of standards in time.
      Note that I don’t condone all that Israel has done, but I simply find that the view that the major perpetrator of this tragedy is Israel, is a re-write of history

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    27. directrob

      “Denying the return of the refugees is a common practice and can’t be seen as wrong”
      There is a small matter international law and universal human rights. We are talking about 700.000 individual human beings here.

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    28. RichardNYC

      As if you know anything about how international law works; its weird that the anti-Israel community doesn’t understand how conspicuously its abuse of legal terminology actual reveals its contempt for law and its bad faith. Maybe there’s a correlation because this kind of deficient self-awareness and anti-Israel political beliefs at a more fundamental level…

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    29. David

      @ SH
      JVP ? you are seriously linking me to JVP ? Why not Finkelstein?
      Should you ever be in Israel, take a look at the landscape photographs around what was to become Tel Aviv, not many villages. Regarding your issue of gentrification. Land was bought, often from the land owning ruling Palestinian class who cashed in at the back, while screaming Nationalism out front.
      Yes Tel Aviv, just like any other city. And even today, entire suburbs, Florentin, Yafo, Gan Haschmal experience the movement of seemingly entire neighbourhoods within a few years.
      I also would like to point out that most Arabs, know nothing about the Shoa, or are full of misbelief about the Shoa. In fact in most Arab societies teaching about the Shoa or Jews is forbidden. There is a causality between need to talk about the Shoa and what ever the Palestinians feel they need to talk about.
      What I would love and feel would add significantly to 972 is that the Israeli side is portrayed as well. Since most issues are closely connected, it only makes sense to also read about genuine Israeli points.

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    30. Alec Macph

      Why should Jews be required to take a loyalty test in balancing remembrance of their own collective grief by considering that of other groups? Israelis were not called on the “talk about the Nakba”… or even Zionist Jews. Instead, it was Jews-as-Jews.

      Then there’s the entirely unreferenced and wholly anecdotal opening “childhood memory”. It should be ignored until it’s corroborated.

      After that we have Mr. Sheizaf saying _he_ hadn’t heard of the word Nakba before the nineties. Not only should this be bigger than him, this might be due to his lack of research… or it might be because, judging by his profile, he was still at school for some or most of this decade.

      And don’t get me started on the little matter of this being a scant four decades after modern Israel was founded, and already Palestinian Arab displacement was being discussed! Of course, it was taking place at least two decades beforehand, as the involvement of a friend of mine in popular demostrations in support of them shows… or the activities of Yehoshua Porath.

      Like, I suspect Mr. Sheizaf, this occurred when I was a nipper or even not yet born. And in an entirely different country. Yet I know about it.

      Admidst all the links back to this and his other blog, the only external resource Mr. Sheizaf cites is Hebrew Wiki.

      If this were an undergraduate essay, I’d give it a D because, at least, it’s in coherent English.

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    31. Ben Israel

      SH’s comment is very important. We see that if a supposedly “Jewish” group like the JVP is pointing out that TEL AVIV is an illegimate Jewish settlement resulting from “Zionist Agression” than those Leftist/Progressive Jews, like those here at “972” who somehow think that if they work themselves up into a rage about Jews living in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, the Arabs (including the Palestinians) will be appreciative and allow Tel Aviv to remain in Jewish hands are sadly mistaken.

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    32. JABIR P


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    33. David

      Just to reiterate, JVP’s link by SH goes ” setting-record-straight-response-historical-distortions-tiff ” . It is hard to have an understanding, when people do not truly comprehend Zionism and are openly anti-Zionist. When you enter a conversation about Israel, it is best not done with points put together by anti-Zionist far left leaning fringe groups.
      JVP will get you a funny look in Tel Aviv, by most leftists ( even they will not stand for a one state solution ). What many commenters from outside Israel may not realize is that inside Israel amongst say 95%++ of Jews, Zionism is not really up for discussion as such. Regardless of what JVP, mondoweiss or EI may lead you to believe. There is a huge gulf between the picture painted by International activists with far leftist North American Olim and the political reality on the ground in Israel.

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    34. Kyrstyn

      OK, this is probably going to come across as very simplistic, and maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it seems to me we can make these things analogous to personal relationships. My ex-husband cheated on me, and although he apologized, it was done begrudgingly and defensively. I was expected to “get over it” and “just move on”, and had he *genuinely* apologized to me and made a real effort to change his behavior going forward to assure me that it wasn’t going to happen again, perhaps I could have. But he never really made amends for it, so the mistrust continued and I spent the remainder of our relationship feeling like a victim. How many times have conquering cultures (the US, Israel, Australia, Canada, Europe…the list goes on and on) made inadequate gestures towards those they displaced? I understand that what is done is done and can’t be undone, but until and unless a real, heart-felt effort is made towards those who feel “victimized”, and the “offender” fully and honestly admits that they committed a wrong against the other party, I don’t see the cycle ending. If, on the other hand, *every* reasonable attempt has been made to set things right and the offended persist with a victim mentality, then there’s nothing more to be done. I think everyone truly just needs to take a good, hard look deep within and ask whether they’ve held up their end of things.

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    35. Jasem from Dubai

      The reason Israel would not recognize or acknowledge its ugly history is because the ethnic cleansing is ongoing. When the project is complete, when all traces of a Palestinian presence are eradicated, then Israel will breathe a sigh or relief, erect monuments, rewrite history books and shed crocodile tears about a history that is irreversible.

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    36. max

      Kyrstyn, good points. Now let’s look at the facts – in a simple but not too simplistic way – and drop the maxim that the weak is always right:
      – The piece of land called Palestine hasn’t been autonomous since the destruction of the kingdom of Judea almost 2,000 years ago
      That’s important for the national aspect of the problem
      – During this time, the land was conquered by many and immigrants came and went.
      That’s important for the human aspect of the problem.
      – During the 1st half of the 20th century, the international legal authorities and powers of the time have decided to allocate (at least part of) this land to create the Jewish Home. That’s how things worked at that time: look at the maps and history of the region.
      That’s again important for the national aspect of the problem.
      – In 1947 the previous decisions have been watered down to a UN proposal for a 2-state solution. The Jews accepted, the Arabs not; the Arab states around the nascent state invaded in 1948 – The Aggression! –, were beaten and the resulting Jewish state was larger than proposed by the UN.
      The refugee problem – a human tragedy – started: the aggressor lost the war.
      But many much larger refugee problems have been created during this time, why is this one still alive?
      Because the human tragedy has been manipulated into a national one. Do you know of another case in which the refugees of the aggressor party who lost the war have been allowed back as if nothing happened, kind of “and please try again, you have little to lose”?
      With an Arab league decision forbidding Arab nations to integrate the refugees (as is done in any other such tragedy, as was done by Israel to absorb the approx. 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries) and a dedicated UN agency providing more money than to any other group and the unbelievable possibility of inheriting the refugee status, the problem had no reason to be solved.
      So you’re right: just like your husband, the Arab aggressor has never apologized to its own people for the tragedy they caused, preferring instead to position themselves as the victims by re-writing history.
      p.s. Are you familiar with Jordan’s history? It may provide you with some additional background to the situation.

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    37. Wow. Best text on the conflict in a long time. WTG Noam.

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    38. Ken

      For anyone seeing this article posted here, just to add a little balance to it.

      1. These are Israel’s enemy whose goal is to eliminate all Jews from the Jewish homeland and to setup Muslim rule.

      2. They follow the idea that “All’s fair in love and war” and they create statements with the understanding that many people (without connections to the middle east) feel that they are obligated to consider “both sides” of any disagreement, so they state as strong a position as they can think of for their side by creating falsehoods.

      3. They commit atrocious acts of terrorism.

      4. Time and time again they show support for those who are fighting against the U.S.

      5. Yes, I believe it’s true that some of the Arabs of the former Palestine area miss their homes there.

      6. Even in times of peace, a government, such as the U.S., has the right to seize private poverty if it sees fit to do so.

      7. Historically, when one culture overtook another, it destroyed are remnants of the previous one.

      8. Jewish tradition acknowledges the pain of the enemy. The sounds produced by blowing the rams horn on Jewish New Year corresponds to the cries of the mother of a general that waged war against the Jews in ancient Israel.

      9. Also, the article had a mention of displaced Jews from 2 countries, but failed to include the displaced Jews from Europe from WWII, some of whom were killed when they tried to return, as well as all the Jews exiled from the Arab countries in 48.

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    39. directrob

      Make not, when you work a deed of shame,
      The scoundrel’s plea, “My forbears did the same”.
      Noam’s article is one of the best short articles about the Nakba I have seen. It combines personal experience and knowledge of history. I do not think your points put anything Noam wrote in a different light. If anything it confirms the need to write articles like these.

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    40. excellent piece, excellent!

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    41. Good article

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    42. Tarek

      Abban- Two wrongs don’t make a right. You’re ignoring of wrongful deeds in an apparent effort to maximize the attention given to what you feel are positive deeds is a poor and dangerous way to look at history.

      I could be wrong, but I think you’re saying that the civil rights obtained by Arabs inside Israel are greater than the rights they can receive in their own countries. And therefore, Israel should be seen in a positive light for this.

      If that’s the case, you’re missing quite a few details… first off, a totalitarian government does not represent it’s people. The current protests running through the Middle East show that the oppressive governments do not represent the interests of the people whom those governments rule. You cannot blame a repressed people for being repressed and if you do, I think you’re setting a very dangerous precedent.

      The next error in your argument seems to be a fundamental belief that this is a Palestinians vs. Israelis article. I believe this to be a well-written article regarding human rights and the concept/practice of unbiased history. This statement you make is particularly unsettling…

      “Let’s see the Arab’s state a war – they lose the war – people are displaced in the war.
      Big deal. ”

      You are assuming that the displaced victims are the ones responsible for the war. I think anyone who stops to think about it, would agree that a group of poor farmers have nothing to do with the war be it as instigators or participants.

      The underlining facts here are that injustice against innocent humans should always be remembered with the goal of preventing such injustice in the future. No nation is infallible and focusing solely on the positives as you seem to prefer is a dangerous path towards further polarization and conflict. Simply look at how the results of WWI led to WWII.

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    43. sh

      @David. I posted a map, which happened to be embedded in an article by JVP. JVP’s article wasn’t the point of the exercise, the map was. The map is in fact published by Zochrot. I have a paper copy of it at home.

      “Should you ever be in Israel…”.
      I am writing from Israel, where I live. I arrived here in 1962. I would like to point out that quite a few Arabs know about the Shoa, particularly Palestinians. I’ve met some of them and there was an article in Haaretz today about a school near Wadi Ara that teaches it to its students. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/on-remembrance-and-hope-for-peace-and-equality-1.362006
      It’s not the only one.

      Tel Aviv is not frank about the destroyed villages it comprises. You have to know about them to be able to find the tell-tale signs. Even the English name for Yafo, i.e. Jaffa, was recently replaced by a transliteration from Hebrew, Yafo on road signs.

      As for one-state v. two-state, neither that nor Zionism were under discussion here. But for the record, I have no view on what the political solution will be except that everything has to be on the table, nothing must be hidden and a solution must be found that allows both peoples to live here in peace.

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    44. Zak Martin

      comment was deleted

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    45. max

      I’m surprised that Zak’s hateful and contemptible content is allowed on this site!
      The Nazi comparison is not only revolting, it also shows either ignorance or outright lie and hate: whereas the Nazi exterminated 6M Jews in roughly 5 years, the number of Palestinians has increased 10 fold in 60 years.
      The post is a deliberate twist of the truth, playing the emotional chord and ignoring the legal aspect, mixing up human tragedy with rights, ignoring history and world precedence.
      The simple fact is that the Jews in Israel have a legal claim to the land as a nation, under the decision of the Council of the League of Nations drafted on 24 July 1922 that came into effect on 26 September 1923.
      This decision, which reduced the size of the Jewish Home compared to the original Balfour declaration in order to make place for a new Arab state (Jordan), has been subsumed by the UN under Article 80 of the United Nations Charter.
      The Arabs didn’t accept the even further reduced state borders according to the UN proposition in ’47, invaded the nascent state, and lost the war.
      The refugees from the war were explicitly denied integration by the same Arab states that pushed and helped them to instigate the war, while the UN defined the incredible rule that in effect introduced the refugee status into their DNA.
      No country has ever been attacked, won, and then accepted the refugees back as if nothing happened, in effect saying “please try again, your luck may change”.

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    46. Ben Israel

      I know it give “progressives” goose-pimples in order to compare Jews and Israel to Nazis (assuming, of course that Nazism is bad in your eyes) but could you show me evidence that “world” agrees with you on this. There are 7 billion people in the world… I am not sure that they appointed you to be their spokesman, so you are going to have to prove it to me that you are right. In the US polls consistently show about 70% of the population sympathizes with Israel and something like 15% sympathize with the Palestinians and this has remained consistent for many years, so I don’t see the “change” you are referring to.
      Also Israel has diplomatic relations with virtually all the countries outside the Arab/Muslim bloc, and even with numerous Muslim states as well outside the Arab world, including good and growing trade relations with them, so I don’t see evidence in this that the “world” agrees with you.

      I have always found Arab comparisons of Israel with Nazis amusing since the Arab world does not view Nazism in the same negative light as does Europe and North American…the Arabs were outside of World War II, many viewed Hiter as someone who would liberate them from British and French Imperialism and as someone who understood the “Jewish problem”. Mein Kampf is a best seller to this day in the Arab world, so maybe when they compare Israel to Nazi Germany they mean it as a compliment?

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    47. ben dukium

      Very good article. It’s sad that still today people continue to equate refugees such as the germans after the WWII and the Palestinians, as if the latters had a State big like Germany behind their shoulders where to find a shelter. Even more ironic is the equation with the Jews refugees from the Arab States. Go to visit Musrara district in Jerualem (one example among hundreds) and you will understand why the jews where so “easily” absorbed in Israel.

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    48. max

      ben Dukium – “… as if the latters had a State big like Germany behind their shoulders where to find a shelter.”
      You point to one of the more cynical aspects of the tragedy. Where else in the world have the leaders of 350M people ethnically, geographically and politically related to the refugees (substantially larger than Germany) decided to forbid the integration of said refugees? What’s worse, these leaders were the very ones who led the aggression that caused the problem!
      As for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries: some for the better, some for the worse, these people have been integrated and the vast majority are proud, happy and contributing citizens of their new country.
      Your insistence on excavating exception is a proof.
      So yes, the problem of the Arab refugees from Palestine is a stark and aberrant reminder of the duplicity of the Arab regimes and people, where political motivation overrides basic human rights and considerations

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    49. Raed Habash

      Imagine Iran forcing an Arab State in England, to get rid of its Arab minority!! then ask British to be “understanding” and “accepting” their destiny and just be killed or refugees in Belgium!!!

      Now what happened is the same, just change the counrty names..
      Britain got rid of its (and European) jews, by throwing them at us. I have nothing against Judaism as a religion.. but when they use it to falsely claim my house, my field, my land, my school, my memories, my history, my present, my future.. and to kill me wherever they find me just because i want my rights.. what do u expect me to do as an Arab, Palestinian and Muslim??

      If Britain and the west are so nice, let them give a part of europe to Jews.. otherwise, the west should keep mouth shut, because tey are responsible for the killing and suffering of Arabs.. and the killing and suffering of Jews in the near future if unjustice keeps going on.

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